Every third heart patient feels pressured to return to work
Every third heart patient feels pressured to return to work. This can backfire and result in long-term sickness leave and unemployment, one of the researchers behind a new study argues.
Severe fatigue, atrial fibrillation, anxiety and depression. These are some of the symptoms experienced by lots of heart patients.
In Denmark, around 524,000 people suffer from cardiovascular disease.
New research from the University of Copenhagen shows that one in three heart patients feels pressured to return to work.
“Heart patients feel pressured by the job centre, their employer, their financial situation or other reasons,” says PhD Student Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen, who is one of the researchers behind the new study.
Having a job is linked to better mental well-being and quality of life and is the main source for securing a financial basis for most people.
In the study, the researchers asked 842 heart patients suffering from the four most common heart diseases what it was like for them to return to work. The four most common heart diseases are ischaemic heart disease, heart valve disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation.
14 per cent of the questioned patients indicated having felt pressured by the job centre, while 10 per cent indicated having felt pressured for financial reasons.
“The study also showed that a large part of the heart patients who said they needed help returning to work felt that their needs had not been met. And 66 per cent were not offered vocational rehabilitation,” says Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen.
“Many heart patients have difficulty regaining a foothold in life and need help navigating a complex system and overseeing their situation,” explains Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen.
“It is therefore important that information about work retention and the disability compensation schemes is disseminated to the relevant actors, so that heart patients become aware of their opportunities early in the course of their disease. In addition, we need to ensure that the work-oriented part of cardiac rehabilitation is interdisciplinary, coordinated and targeted at the individual person,” she continues.
The study also suggests that many heart patients return to work before they feel physically and mentally ready for it, and Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen believes the study speaks for itself, pointing to a need for guidelines for helping heart patients return to work.
“Some of these people have found themselves in a life or death situation that may have resulted in mental issues such as anxiety or depression. Some also struggle with physical issues that may prevent them from e.g. doing hard manual labour. It is important that we identify the ones who need help early in the process,” says Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen.
May lead to long-term sickness leave or unemployment
Previous research suggests that pressuring heart patients to return to work and not giving them the help they need can rebound both on the individual patient and on society.
A study from 2017 shows that one in four heart patients who have returned to work is forced to leave the labour market again within a year and instead be supported by the state.
“There could well be a connection between feeling pressured to start work early, not experiencing the right help, and ultimately not being able to do your job. But that is not something we have investigated in this study,” says Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen.
However, she emphasizes that returning to employment is important for the individual’s quality of life, and that it is of course in the interests of society that as many people as possible are retained in the labour market.
“Having a job is linked to better mental well-being and quality of life, and for most people it is the main way of securing a financial basis. At the same time, we know that unwanted unemployment is associated with increased risk of premature death, poorer physical and mental health as well as increased contact with the healthcare system and greater drug consumption,” concludes Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen.
The study, “Perceived return-to-work pressure following cardiovascular disease is associated with age, sex, and diagnosis: a nationwide combined survey- and register-based cohort study”, has been published in BMC Public Health.
PhD Student Sidsel Marie Bernt Jørgensen
+45 21 64 23 22
Journalist and press consultant Liva Polack
+45 23 68 03 89